The Road Taken: Christmas with Pam

It was that time of year again and I was dreading it.  The holidays. I’d been living in Seattle a few years and still couldn’t get used to not having the family around at this time of year. But they were all in New York and I missed them immensely.

At home, it was business as usual. My husband, G, said the pressures of going for his PhD made it difficult for taking any time off, and the holidays were no exception. Besides, he didn’t celebrate Christmas. And I had made a commitment not to, either, as it was important to his family. Most of the year, I didn’t mind. I enjoyed learning about G’s family traditions.

But Christmas was coming and I so missed the traditions of my childhood. Like helping my mother decorate the tree, and wrap the presents, which was an art in and of itself.  She taught me well, where to make the creases, and how to line up the patterns on the wrapping paper, when taping it, so that it appeared seamless. I also loved baking cookies, using a recipe I had learned in my high school Home Economics class. I’d make batches of Spritz cookies, that I would then frost and decorate to my heart’s content.

But with no family in Seattle, just G, and with his insistence on working Christmas Eve and Day, there would be no holiday warmth in our home. Just another day in the life.  I knew a tree was out of the question. The symbolism was too much for him to bear.  Still, I would have given anything to decorate for winter, with snowmen figurines or a pillow decorated with snowflakes.  But G saw those things as a “gateway drug” to getting a tree, and, shaking his head, thanked me for respecting his wishes.

So there was nothing in my home except one thing. The one thing I could still hold on to. The one thing G couldn’t keep out of our house, and the one thing that didn’t cost me a dime:  Christmas music.

Two days before Christmas, one of the local radio stations started playing Christmas music nonstop, with no commercial breaks. Perfect. I took a blank cassette tape from a stack we kept by the stereo and I recorded 90 minutes of uninterrupted holiday music, which, in the still of my home, with no one around, and the lights down low, I’d play over and over. I treasured that tape.

On Christmas Eve day, G left early for the lab. I had the day off.  Around noon, I called home and spoke to my mother. She was busy preparing a turkey, potatoes, and some traditional Venezuelan foods for their meal. Christmas Eve in our family was even more important than Christmas Day itself. Everyone was there. In the background, I could hear the laughter and shouts of glee from my nieces. One of my brothers got on the phone and asked me what my plans were. I felt tears well in my eyes, knowing I didn’t have any, so I lied and said G would be home in a few hours and we’d be having dinner.  He replied with something like, “That’s great,” and ran off to chase after his youngest. They were getting ready to put their boots on and go out in the snow.

I looked out the back window into our patio. The skies were gray with no signs of snow.  Just a cold, light mist.  I turned on the TV and watched It’s a Wonderful Life, remembering how, long ago, my oldest brother had asked me to watch this film with him, as it was one of his favorites. That was long before it became a national holiday tradition. I thought of him now and wished we were watching it together.

When the movie ended, I inserted my tape into the stereo and hit the “play” button.  While Bing Crosby sang about a white Christmas, I decided to look in the fridge to see what I could have for dinner. There was some leftover cauliflower curry and a chicken breast. G was supposed to have taken the curry to eat at the lab, but in his haste to leave, had forgotten. Oh, well. It was mine now.

The doorbell rang. It was Pam from next door. Her siblings had driven in, early that morning, from the Spokane area and she was cooking dinner.

Looking past me, into the darkened room, she said, hesitantly, “We were wondering if you and G might like to come over for dinner?”

“G’s at the lab.”

Pam shot me one of her sardonic looks and raised her right eyebrow. “So Scrooge is at the lab? What else is new?” Then, with slight concern, added, “We need to get you out of here, stat.”

“Are you sure? Don’t you want to just be with your family?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. It’s our duty to take in the riff-raff of society. So stop wasting time and come on.”

In that moment, I wanted to put my arms around Pam and hug her tightly. Luckily, I knew better and didn’t want to push my luck. Grabbing my purse and keys, I locked the door and followed her to her place.

That was the first Christmas I spent with Pam and her family, in the comfort of her holiday-festooned home, and for the next few years, while we lived in Seattle, it became an annual tradition. The scent of pine, and the aromas of her famous rhubarb pie baking in the oven, wafted through her home, while traditional carols played on the stereo. I loved all her decorations, right down to the bubble lights she put on her evergreen, and the kitschy Santa she kept by the front door. Another tradition of Pam’s was to go to the movies to see the latest Disney animated re-release (this was before VHS and DVD made it possible to watch at home). Just the four of us adults–Pam, her siblings and me–and it was pure joy.

Yep, those Christmases so inspired me that, years later, after my marriage to G had ended, I unconsciously adapted her whimsical style in my own home. Perhaps, it was my way of reliving Christmas with Pam.

Read past installments, by visiting the page, The Road Taken.

41 thoughts on “The Road Taken: Christmas with Pam

  1. I love how you described the winter decor as gateway drugs to a tree. That’s exactly how my dad was growing up. I remember being chastised for putting out a little Rudolph and Frosty candle. Glad your Christmas turned out to be a good one with Pam.

    • I’m actually surprised that you’re the only person who has picked up on that. I love that your father thought along the same lines. It validates what I am trying to say. Now you know the backstory as to why I’m drawn to kitschy stuff. 😉

  2. Monica, beautiful post. I too was drawn in by the descriptiveness of your gift wrapping lesson. I had a similar lesson growing up! I could truly sense your isolation, and God bless Pam for her role in wrapping you into her fold. I have a dinner function to attend this week and the hostess has asked us to consider our response to the following question: “what’s the best Christmas present you’ve ever received?” I’ve been a little stymied by it but I think I now know the answer: I consider it a blessing that I’ve never had to spend the holidays alone. Ah, and Chanukah approaches 🙂

    • Yes, that is a beautiful gift, not to be alone for the holidays. I’m so glad my post helped you turn inward to find the answer. Having loved ones around us is the best gift of all.

  3. Monica, beautiful writing. I especially liked the scene with your mother teaching you how to wrap presents just right. I’m so glad you are living the life you want now…especially celebrating Christmas “Monica-style” with a dash of “Pam.” Live it up, Spritz away, crank the tunes and revel in all the traditions that make your holidays meaningful.

    • Becky, coming from someone as talented as you, I am so grateful for your kind words. My mother wasn’t a stickler about a lot of things, but when it came to wrapping gifts, they had to be done in a precise sort of way. No loose ends anywhere. I could have taken my talents to Macy’s or Gimbel’s Department Store. She taught me that well, and I, in turn, have passed it on to my daughter. Maybe I’ll write a book: Gift wrapping for Dummies. 😉

  4. What a nice story with a happy ending. I linked over from Bassas Blog and I’m glad I did, you write beautifully and I am glad you took your life back and you had such a special friend as Pam in your life when you needed it. We all need that special someone in our lives to help us through difficult times.

    • Thank you, so much. I’m glad I got my life back, too. It has made all the difference and now I have two beautiful children to celebrate with. I’m so glad Bassa’s BBC news persuaded you to stop by. I just adore Bassa!

  5. Hi Monica, I found your blog through Bassa who shared this post on the BBC (Bassa’s Blogging Channel). My husband and I just moved to New York for his job, and we won’t be able to go home for Christmas this year, which I am pretty sad about. It will be my first Christmas away from home, and we don’t have any family here to celebrate with. But your story gave me hope that we can create a new Christmas tradition we can cherish. Thanks so much for sharing!

    – Uptown Dog’s Mom

    • Thank you so much, Uptown Dog’s Mom! I’m glad my story has given you hope. I’m originally from New York and that place holds lots of holiday memories for me–the tree in Rockefeller Center, the Rockette’s holiday show, the department store windows. Maybe you’ll be able to make some memories of your own.

      Don’t you just love Bassa and her BBC news? It’s a wonderful idea and, in its short time of existence, already seems to be providing a little slice of happiness everyday. Bassa is a very smart dog. 😉 I’m really glad you stopped by!

  6. Monica, I was so touched by reading your story. In Japan, (my country) Christmas is the day to celebrate for most of the people and we don’t mind what religions you belong to.
    To be honest, we don’t know the real meaning well and just enjoy the day.
    However I knew that Christmas has a very important messages for some people in the other countries. How lovely your next neighbour Pam is! I’m glad you finally got a lovely Christmas day!!!

    • I’m so glad you stopped by and appreciated my story. I’m fascinated that in Japan you can appreciate and enjoy the day without knowing too much about it. How wonderful! I think it’s important to be open and understand other’s religious holidays and its beliefs. Only then can we have peace and tolerance.

      Thanks again. I’m so happy you found my blog. 🙂

  7. One of the things my mother always told me was: ‘nobody should be alone on Christmas Day,’ so over the years I have tried to have people that would otherwise be alone or taken them a great meal when my apartment wouldn’t hold anymore! I realised just how important it is when I read your lovely post. Thanks for sharing Monica and have a wonderful Christmas.

  8. This was so sad. I’m Jewish, I converted in my late 20’s much to my family’s dismay. I grew up Roman Catholic. Personally I don’t miss Christmas, but every year I go to my parent’s on Christmas Eve and help them celebrate. It gives them so much pleasure and my absence would really upset them. It’s called honoring your mother and father. I respect the beliefs of those who, because of religious beliefs, don’t want it in their homes. That being said I would never deny someone their right to their religious celebrations. I think Hashem understands.

    • Marilyn, I converted in my early 20’s, which was probably too early to understand the full grasp of what I was doing. 90 percent of the year I was fine with my decision, but I missed the Christmas traditions I grew up with and, unable to celebrate with my family because of the distance, I pined for it all the more. Pam helped me fine a way to enjoy the holidays for a few years while I lived in Seattle. Now that I’m divorced, I’m still Jewish and raised my kids to be so, too. But now I decorate with snowmen and signs of winter. No tree, but the decorations make my home warm and festive. My parents are long gone, but I feel closer to them by keeping these traditions.

  9. Pingback: Top story from the BBC News « bassasblog

    • Hi Mikalee! I think he’d hate my blog, period. I’ll have to see if I can find that recipe for Spritz cookies. I remember it called for a lot of butter and sugar. Will let you know if I do. 😉

  10. Monica, reading this post resulted in my having a lump in my throat. Christmas Eve has always been more important in my home than Christmas as well! It must be a Latino thing! My mother would only allow us to open one present when the clock struck 12, a tradition I held onto with my own children. I cannot believe your endurance at putting up with G’s nonsense. What a horrible man! I’ve always been wary of men that don’t know how to meet women half way and to take away all of your traditions and customs? Well that’s just unacceptable! This brings to mind something someone once told me when I was going through my divorce. He said to me, “You’ve been given your wings back. Now you must soar like you once did!” Reading your post, I can see how that applies. All I can say is thank goodness for Pam and her family. I’m certain their kindness not only kept you going through the holiday season, but allowed you to hope and keep the faith. Bless them.

    • Querida Bella, I love that quote and it is so TRUE!! It was like being born again. I gave up a lot of things for the sake of our marriage. But why couldn’t anyone tell me, warn me back then, that it didn’t have to be this way? Why do I feel like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, how Glinda told her she had to find it out for herself. I remember wanting to slap Glinda back then. She held the key, the solution and said nada.

      Of course, after my divorce, all the things I gave up, I took them back, slowly but surely. In the process I got my self esteem and my dignity. Mija, I am so better off. I will remember your friend’s quote, because no one, but no one, should give up themselves to be with their partner. And, yes, I am soaring!

    • Welcome back, Wendy! I’m pleased as punch to hear from you and see your pretty avatar face. Read your blog today and am sorry things didn’t turn out, but I know you’re going to bounce back and get an even better job soon.

      Thanks for reading my series again. I agree: Thank goodness for Pam! 😉

  11. Monica, you’ve gone and made me cry! I can just see you sitting all alone in a dark apartment trying like crazy to ward off the loneliness and sadness at being away from family and friends for the first time in your life, with a husband working in his lab. How blessed you were to have a generous, caring neighbor like Pam! People shouldn’t be alone during the holidays.

  12. Great story, Monica. I find myself getting more and more angry at G. The fact that he does not want you to celebrate something that is important to you because it’s not important to him is infuriating. I am so glad that Pam and her family came to the rescue!

    • I don’t blame you. So do I when I remember these things. But nowadays he has a new family and kids, who, naturally, think the world of him. They have no idea what he was like then. 😉

  13. Being alone on a holiday is so dreary. My chest got tight thinking of you so far from your family and not even able to tell them how sad you were. What a wonderful friend and neighbor Pam was to invite you to share her family Christmas.

  14. I could picture you at Pam’s home; smiling and just embracing all that warmth. How wonderful of Pam to rescue you and what a light in your life. My heart went out to you as I read how you spoke to your family on the phone, I really felt your sadness. My family is with me, my mum is not and I miss her all the time( thank goodness for Skype) I am so glad you decided to follow some of Pam’s traditions.

  15. I’m with Nicole, this was a very touching story. Thank goodness Pam came into your life when you needed her most. And what a tribute to her friendship that you incorporated some of her holiday traditions into your own. Makes me wonder how many people are out there right now dreading the holidays cuz they have no one to share with :>(

  16. Very lovely post Monica. I am so pleased that you had such a wonderful neighbor. Her Christmas spirit saved your Christmas. As I read your post I kept imagining that you were a stray cat or dog or waif waiting to be rescued! I’m happy that you were 🙂

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